USS Preble

The USS Preble was a sloop-of-war assigned to the Gulf Blockading Squadron in July 1861. She was lost by an accidental fire started the carelessness of ship's corporal William J. Wilson while at anchor in Pensacola Bay on 27 April 1863.


Sir: It is my painful duty to report the total destruction of the U. S. ship Preble, while lying at anchor off the town of Pensacola, on the morning of the 27th instant. At 9:30 a.m. the alarm of fire was made. I immediately started for the deck, and in passing from my cabin saw a volume of dense black smoke and flame issuing from the forehold. I instantly ordered to beat to quarters, and at the same time made every effort to subdue the fire. At 9:40, finding the ire increasing rapidly, I ordered Mr. Knowlton, acting ensign and executive officer, to have the magazine flooded and to inform me when the fire reached the bulkhead of the wardroom. At 10:15 or thereabouts the fire had reached the wardroom bulkhead. I instantly gave the word, "all hands leave the ship," as I found it impossible to save her. I beg to state that all hands did their duty in trying to subdue the flames. The officers and men lost all their personal effects.

At 10:50 the ship blew up.

From a report from Vincent B. Clark, landsman, I learn that the fire originated by the carelessness of William J. Wilson, ship's corporal, temporarily acting captain of the hold. I cannot learn further than he was emptying a barrel of tar oil into the tank; neither can I tell if he had an open light or a lantern. My orders have been very positive that no open light to be used on any account in the hold.

For a list of casualties I respectfully refer you to the accompanying report of Surgeon James S. Knight.

I respectfully ask that a court of enquiry be called as soon as possible.

Very respectfully, your obedient servant,
W. F. Shankland, Acting Master, Commanding.

Per a 26 June 1863 communication between Farragut and Giden Welles, a court of inquiry was in fact held regarding the loss of the Preble and the proceedings transmitted north, but am unable to find a copy of it.

  • USS Preble on NavSource

  • Deaths

      Name Rate/Rank Date of Death
    James D. GouldLandsman7 March 1863
    Robert HatchSeaman20 September 1861
    James MasseyPrivate, USMC2 October 1861
    Thomas MurnameLandsman7 March 1863
    ✚ øWilliam J. WilsonShip's Corporal27 April 1863


    killed in action
    prisoner of war
    died of disease or injury
    died of yellow fever
    ø died due to vessel loss
    died in ordnance accident
    buried on land in marked grave
    buried/lost at sea
    🎖 Medal of Honor recipient
    transcribed letters of sailor/marine posted

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